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Tropical Storm Eta could be a hurricane when it reaches Florida

Tampa Bay will start seeing storm effects Sunday night and can expect to see rain for much of this week.

Tropical Storm Eta is forecast to build back to hurricane-level strength in the next 48 hours as it moves toward the Keys and South Florida, pushing ahead rainfall that’s expected to drench the Tampa Bay area with rain showers through the week.

Fueled by low wind shear and warm waters, Eta whipped the Keys on Sunday with damaging winds and gusts of 60 mph were recorded at Fort Lauderdale Beach. Forecasters warned that “a tornado or two” could form in South Florida on Sunday evening into Monday morning.

Forecasters warned the storm could bring 8 to 12 inches of rainfall to parts of South Florida.

Eta ripped through Cuba on Sunday morning, pummeling the island’s east-central coastline with storm surge, winds and flash flooding. The storm has wreaked havoc across the Atlantic since Tuesday, when it devastated parts of Central America as a Category 4 hurricane. The death toll was at least 150.

The Tampa Bay area can expect to see “gusty showers that will move in and out quickly," said Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik. “They will bring quick heavy rain. But totals overall will not end up very high."

She predicted a 70 percent chance of rain Monday and a 50 percent chance Tuesday and Wednesday.

There’s a 25 to 30 percent chance the bay area will see tropical-storm-force winds, from 39 mph to 73 mph. High temperatures will be in the low to mid 80s at the start of the week, and overnight lows will be in the low to mid 70s.

“The problem with this system is it’s going to be nearby us for a long time,” Kacmarik said. “This is going to have an impact for a long time around our area, through at least Thursday.”

In a Facebook Live video posted Sunday morning, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned Floridians that “today is the day to get ready for this" storm.

“You’re going to be dealing with this all week,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. “It’s going to take a lot to get this thing out of here.”

The southern end of Florida falls under the cone of uncertainty, while the top of southern Pinellas County lies just outside the edge. That could change.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez declared a state of emergency on Friday. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statement Friday urging Floridians to get ready: “Gather seven days of supplies.”

If Eta makes landfall in Florida, it will be the first tropical storm to hit the state in November since Tropical Storm Mitch on Nov. 5, 1998. It may not be the last storm Florida sees during this historically active hurricane season, which could last into December.

Hurricane watches — signaling a chance of a big storm within a day or two — were in effect for the Keys, Florida Bay and the Atlantic coast of southeast Florida. A tropical storm watch was in effect for parts of the Gulf coast, from Englewood to Anna Maria Island.

By 4 p.m. Sunday, the center of Tropical Storm Eta was about 140 miles south-southeast of Miami and about 115 miles southeast of Marathon in the Florida Keys, moving toward the northwest at about 14 mph. The storm was carrying maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, with higher gusts up to 175 miles from its center, the National Hurricane Center said.

On its current forecast track, Eta was expected to move over the Florida Straits between Cuba and the Bahamas on Sunday, pass near or over the Florida Keys on Sunday night and early Monday, and arrive in the southeastern Gulf late Monday into Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

By Monday afternoon, forecasters anticipate the storm to be over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. With a western turn expected sometime on Tuesday, Eta’s projected path will take the storm around, away from and then directly toward Florida over the next few days.

Eta pummeled parts of east-central Cuba with heavy rainfalls measuring 5 to 10 inches, with isolated totals nearing 25 inches.

Members of search and recovery teams search for survivors Saturday in the debris of a massive, rain-fueled landslide in the village of Queja, in Guatemala, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Eta.
Members of search and recovery teams search for survivors Saturday in the debris of a massive, rain-fueled landslide in the village of Queja, in Guatemala, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Eta. [ ESTEBAN BIBA | AP ]

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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